Several weeks ago, I read an article from Nathan Hale on how to do a better job of hearing from God when reading the Bible. It's a short read, but putting it into practice has given me a lot of benefit. And not only in my devotional time.
Nathan's main thrust was something known as Lectio Divina, a Latin term for Divine Reading. It involves four steps; reading, meditation, response, and contemplation. Each step is taking carefully and with consideration; please use the link above to read about the idea in more detail (a relatively short read).
Intellectual reading vs. something deeper
Regular Bible reading has never been a problem for me. I enjoy it! But it's so very easy to read something intellectually, giving it little thought apart from the immediate context of the text. This process helps you to slow down. During the meditation of the text, you consider what the text is saying and what it would have meant to the author, the original readers, and to yourself thousands of years later. Let the text speak back to you.
Taking the time to slowly ponder the text has been a wonderful shift in my reading. Unless I was preparing a Bible study or Sunday school class, my reading did not look like this. How much better it is to take the time to allow God to speak to me through His word.
Not only for those who believe in God
Of course, not everyone who reads this site holds to the same beliefs that I do. But I would say this concept is not only helpful for reading the Bible for the purpose of hearing from God.
How often do we read a book or article, only to cross it off our long reading list? When you read a book, do you take time to meditate on the text, to consider how it might change your thinking or the way you live your life?
Putting this idea into practice has helped me to be more mindful of all my reading. Now when I do my devotional time, I keep a journal of what I'm reading or praying. Similarly, I'm journaling the items (books or blog posts) I read that cause me to think. Highlighting certain passages is a good practice period, but even without that, the simple act of reading slowly and digesting the words is something I would recommend to anyone.
Jack Cheng nails this (as he often does). He outlines the problem:
When things are packaged into a list, we have a habit of reading one thing, nodding and moving on. When the next bit of juicy advice is just a few lines down the page, it’s effortless to tilt our eyeballs the extra millimeter. In our quick-fix culture, lists are the Taco Bell of knowledge.
And also shares his solution:
When you find yourself saying “that’s a really great idea, I should try that,” stop reading. Pick one thing from that list of fifteen. Don’t worry about finishing the rest of the book. Try it. Practice it, repeat it, until it becomes routine. Remind yourself to consciously think about it on a regular basis. When you make that one item a habit, you can come back to the source and learn something else.
I feel this fits well with Lectio Divina. Take time to read, re-read, and meditate on this piece of human thought you've chosen to ingest. Truly ingest it; if it resonates with you, allow it to change you. This is what I want to do with Scripture, but also any topic that I enjoy; web design, typography, woodworking … you name it.
This means not learning or reading something that is of interest to you. But in order to have the time to change, this is a necessary step.
Our culture fights that very idea. Make the time!